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BRIAN JONES: The unbearable frightfulness of being socialist

The Confederation Building in St. John's, Newfoundland. — file
Confederation Building in St. John’s. — Telegram file photo

The poor, extinct Newfoundland wolf was probably less vicious than the Great Newfoundland Voter.

Suggest — as I did last week — that the Newfoundland electorate should break its 70-year habit of alternating between Liberal-Tory-Liberal-Tory, and the Great Newfoundland Voter will bare its incisors and defend a practice that has led a perpetually destitute province to the brink of economic ruin.

“Hey Brian,” one reader said via email, “why don’t you run for the NDP since you apparently love them so much, then you can turn N.L. into Venezuela.”

Another email sender was more measured in a similar message: “I beg to differ with your belief in socialism. As you are well aware socialism has failed almost everywhere it has been put into practice — eastern European countries under the former U.S.S.R., in South America everywhere it has been attempted, in Africa — just about everywhere.”

It isn’t just the potential of NDP jackboots that makes people nervous.

“Not sure why you are so positive the NDP at their limited level of organization, usually with candidates with limited resumés, would provide better government,” another correspondent wrote. “They certainly have zero experience making major decisions or doing a budget.”

Apparently, socialism can be equated with totalitarianism or incompetence, or both.

This being the 21st century, we are years past the time when socialism could reasonably be accused of including gulags and summary executions. If you’re going to equate socialism with communism, you’d better be prepared to also equate your conservatism with fascism. No? OK then, smarten up.

Speaking of which, one of the above correspondents objected to my alleged condescension toward the Great Newfoundland Voter.

“I do resent the underlying allusion in your article that suggests the good people of Newfoundland may be too stupid or uninformed to accept socialism,” he wrote.

There was indeed an allusion in last week’s column, but that was not it. The actual allusion was to a perplexing question that has existed in democracies since the days of voting by raised hand: why do people vote in ways that are directly against their own interest?

The most recent and famous example of this phenomenon is, of course, our irate southern neighbours, who in 2016 exercised their fury over lost jobs and a declining economy by electing a stunned, narcissistic billionaire.

Newfoundland has had 70 years — come April 1st! — of high unemployment, poverty and out-migration, but the electorate continues its habit, decade after decade, of alternating between Liberal governance and Tory governance, neither of which has shown a whit of concern for regular Newfoundlanders.

Institute a poll tax? Sure, why not turn the calendar back to the 16th century.

Newfoundland has had 70 years — come April 1st! — of high unemployment, poverty and out-migration, but the electorate continues its habit, decade after decade, of alternating between Liberal governance and Tory governance, neither of which has shown a whit of concern for regular Newfoundlanders.

The allegation that NDPers lack competence is as overused as it is unjustified. Was it an NDP government that mistakenly expropriated Abitibi assets in Grand Falls, costing federal taxpayers $130 million? Did an NDP government give a $40-million boost to a cannabis company — because, you know, legalized marijuana is such a hard sell?

Did an NDP premier say the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project was “a no-brainer”?

Conservatives still use the lazy accusation that socialists are naïve and foolish regarding economics. And yet, the bold captains of industry at the St. John’s Board of Trade were among the loudest cheerleaders for the Muskrat Falls project. The human pyramids the suits made at their luncheons were truly impressive.

An above-mentioned correspondent at least had the honesty to refer to social democracy, although his view is that the resulting high taxes make it unworkable.

Fair enough. On the other hand, it might be the best option for the malaise that has plagued Western democracies for 40 years — lost jobs, stunted salaries, income disparity and economic decline.

The left, to its discredit, has profoundly misinterpreted the so-called “populist” movement worldwide. It is not fascism. It is the result of people’s justified anger. People voting irrationally? Where have we seen that before?

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Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at brian.jones@thetelegram.com.

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